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Family Planning

Family Planning And Authoritarianism

Family-planning advocates and organizations claim that the modern "contraceptive revolution" has been achieved without coercion, through "purely voluntary means" with only "minor disadvantages" to people in the Third World (UNFPA). But a closer examination of the methods of contraception and strategies of family planning reveals widespread human-rights violations and safety and ethical problems. In this regard, it is well to remember the arguments commonly put forward by influential neo-Malthusian demographers, according to whom political will and strong measures need to be used in the fight against population growth, and democratic norms may have to be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good.

Some analysts argue that neo-Malthusian family planning is a quantitative, technical, and bureaucratic approach driven by urgency and aggression to reduce the numbers of the human population in a race against the mechanical clock. Controlled by money and political influence, it has erected a vast global family-planning enterprise far removed from the broader economic needs and cultural interests of the masses whose numbers it seeks to control. Such a hierarchical and at times violent approach can reinforce existing psychosocial structures of domination and subordination; men over women (patriarchy); capital over labor (capitalism); north over south (imperialism); white over people of color (white supremacy/racism); and so on.

Dualistic thinking, the separation of self and other and of subject and object, lies at the root of neo-Malthusianism. As such, it is unable to comprehend the inherent connectedness between the self and the other. Fear of the unknown and desire for permanence and control, in this case, the control of the global masses and their reproduction, underlies this dichotomous thinking. As a fragmented, top-down, and homogeneous approach, Malthusianism leaves no room for more balanced, qualitatively oriented participatory and diverse approaches, for example, indigenous peoples' and women's approaches to reproduction. Aggression and conquest rather than compassion and caring drive the population-control establishment and the larger model of technological-capitalist development that it represents.

Indeed, understanding and empathy require patience; but, according to its advocates, population control is urgent; it cannot lose time. Thus, terminal and high-tech methods are seen as being quicker, easier, and more efficient to administer than women-controlled methods of fertility control. However, myopic vision arising out of self-interest and fear leads to dangerous policies of gender, race, and class oppression. If unchallenged and unchecked, neo-Malthusian family planning could become an even greater tool of authoritarianism and social engineering in the future than it has been in the past. A shift from population control to birth control, from external domination to greater individual control over reproduction, can only be achieved through fundamental transformation of the global political-economic order and the dominant ideologies of both religious fundamentalism and neo-Malthusianism.

Reproduction is a highly political issue and it is unlikely that in the long term either the problem of population stabilization or the global social crisis will be resolved by political repression or high technology. Questions pertaining to democracy and authoritarianism are embedded in the structures of the society. Widespread protests against forced sterilizations in India under the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi were a major factor in her defeat in the subsequent elections. Field researchers who have observed grassroots reactions to coercive population-control policies in India have warned that mounting dissatisfaction could again lead to conflict and violence as it did under the Emergency.

In China too, despite state authoritarianism, there have been outbursts and protests against family-planning policies, and the government has had to soften its policies on a number of occasions. Reporters who have traveled in the Chinese countryside have observed that the government's population policy has caused "a mixture of anger, support, frustration, enthusiasm, deviousness and pain" and that the "desire to procreate" stirs more emotion than any desire for political democracy (cited in Bandarage, 1997, p. 102).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to FerrocyanideFamily Planning - Origin And Evolution Of Family Planning, Family Planning In The Global South, The "second Contraceptive Revolution"